Emile took me on a walk along Carlisle St, to see the changes. After seeing what happened in South Yarra (entire city of skyscrapers built in the last 10 years), I was having much culture shock. Glick’s. The best bagels anywhere. I used to buy the carroway seed ones, fill with cheese, and other delicacies, and eat when I got home after climbing, coffee, and shopping. Old Glick died recently, he used to serve me occasionally. On a Friday he’d be talking with everyone coming in for Shabbat. The place expanded next door, twice as big now, but still white tiles and utilitarian. Still the best bagels.
Miri Rubin’s Emotion and Devotion: The Meaning of Mary in Medieval Religious Cultures is one of my most recent bunch of northern European mediæval art / history that are somewhat of a continuation from my reading of the works of Caroline Walker Bynum — who also has a work in this bunch. Rubin was one of several historians on a list given to me by an actual mediæval historian. I was looking for fresh reading of the calibre of Bynum (which for any of you who’ve been reading supernaut for a while know I’m mad fond of her brilliance) and popped the question to him. He passed it on, and the contact replied, “CWB is quite wonderful, so it’s not easy to find another like her in any discipline. […] The best women writing in medieval art right now are probably Jacqueline Jung, Aden Kumler, and Beate Fricke. Miri Rubin and Barbara Newman are also great; not art historians but both women are widely read by art historians and end up discussing art in useful ways.”
So I’m reading Miri Rubin. I’m also reading Beate Fricke. Jacqueline Jung translated Aloïs Riegl’s Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts which I eventually had to say “No!” to, there’s only so much 19th century Euro-nationalist bollocks I can stomach. The primary difficulty I have with all these writers is many if not most of their published works cost in the mid- to high- double figures, and some even hurtle into triple-figure territory. I know I have a reputation to uphold of profligate book aquiring but there are limits.
Rubin then, I’ve just started reading. It’s a small work, a collection of her lectures presented “in the framework of the Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lecture Series at the Central European University, Budapest.” So far it’s very nice, particularly when she talks about the global nature of the development of Mary and Christianity, its interconnection with the Near- and Middle East, North Africa, Judaism, and while the part I’m reading is pre-Islam, nonetheless also pre-Islamic religions of the region. As with Bynum, I suspect Rubin’s name is going to appear here in the near future.
The Alte Nationalgalerie’s audio guide tag team slayed it. Good thing I checked the map first, or I’d have gone to the Altes Museum. Good thing also I turned around at the first painting when I saw it had the luscious headphones icon, went back and got some.
First painting: Osman Hamdi Bey’s Der Wunderbrunnen, subtitled Lesender Araber, originally titled Ab-ı Hayat Çeşmesi (The Fountain of Youth) from 1904. Audio Guide! Three minutes of detailed explanation about the painting, the fountain, the cabinet, the artist. Osman Hamdi Bey is the reason I go to museums and galleries. It was really poorly lit off to one side of the first floor entrance to the exhibition rooms. Just a bit of light, please?
Then into … ah I went backwards again, Secessions & fin de siècle instead of Realism from Constable to Courbet. There were a lot of paintings throughout of girls or young women at a table, on a sofa, sitting around looking listless and bored. Like Leo von König’s Am Früstückstisch. Kinda charming. Then there was stuff like Max Beckmann’s Kleine Sterbeszene, all Edvard Munch brutal colour and application, green or yellow skin, psychological horror rather than realism. As I got further through it became obvious what a reaction against the sentimental, cloying realism it was, with all the latter’s nationalism, colonialism, racism and misogyny. God I got sick of looking at self-righteous, self-important men in uniform. And the landscapes. I love a good landscape, but there was something about these in the context of late-1800s that seems more about propping up the insecurity of a national subconscious than it does celebrating nature.
There was Franz von Stuck’s awesome woman with the serpent, all blue-ish and sickly, Die Sünde, which I loved when I was a teen Goth. All glossy as hell also and until I get around to buying a circular polarising filter for camera, glossy is what I’ll get. There’s also his Tilla Durieux als Circe. The commentary is hilarious. Obviously Stuck had a boner for Durieux and thought his work of her was well tasty. She on the other hand wrote most excellent autobiographical slapdown.
Now we get to the bones of the collection. Massive, wall-covering Gründerzeit objects from the mid- to late-19th century. Adolph Menzel fills a few large rooms with four or five paintings. That kinda thing.
Before him though, Wilhelm Gentz and his 1876 colossal Einzug des Kronprinzen Friedrich Wilhelm von Preußen in Jerusalem 1869. Friedrich Wilhelm (we have to make sure which Friedrich Wilhelm, seeing there were so many. In this case, William I, German Emperor) was there representing Prussia (then as Crown Prince, not Emperor, hadn’t slammed France in the Franco-German war at that point) for the opening of the Suez Canal. Of this painting, art critic Adolf Rosenberg wrote in 1891: “…es ist die erste bildliche Darstellung der sieghaften Macht, die das neuerstarkte Deutschland über Orient und Occident damals zu gewinnen anfing” (“… it is the first pictorial representation of the victorious power with which at that time the newly invigorated Germany first began to win the Orient and Occident.”). The artist by the way, is the guy in white on the donkey, far right.
I think this is an exemplary work of the orientalism of the time, and side by side with say, St Maurituis illustrates the change in European attitudes and regard for people of colour and places outside Europe in the 350 years between the mediæval and the 19th century colonial imperial era. Particularly in the (Germanic region) Holy Roman Empire, representations like St. Mauritius were common enough to occur multiple times in every museum I’ve visited in the last year and an half, and these representations placed people of colour in equal positions to the other subjects. By the 18th century these representations were mostly that of exotic subjugation. In Adolph Menzel’s 1878 Das Ballsoper the range of skin tones (with the exception of the seated man far right) is a function of available light and shadow—something often used to explain away real variation in skin colour—and the only people with dark skin are half-naked and bejewelled statues holding enormous candelabra. This then is the representation of 19th century ideas of race and nation as presented in the Alte Nationalgalerie.
Another massive Adolph Menzel, Ansprache Friedrichs des Großen an seine Generale vor der Schlacht bei Leuthen 1757 from 1859-61 unintentionally presages where all this will go. Unfinished, Friedrich the Great himself is a bare patch of canvas. Behind the first grouping of generals, some of the second tier are also these off-white voids. On the right, severing the tree from its base, another, and on the left one who seems to be evaporating, feet melting into snow, a blob rather than a person. Across the painting eyes have been scratched out, faces hacked, the work abandoned in despair. It reminds me of the Romanian flag with the centre cut out on the cover of Žižek’s Tarrying with the Negative of which he says, “…instead of the symbol [for Žižek the flag, here Friedrich the Great] standing for the organising principle of the national life, there was nothing but a hole in its centre.”
Amidst the landscapes—some of which I did find attractive, or at least capture what is beautiful in northern Germany (hah, yes, occasionally yes), like Karl Hagemeister’s Märkische Landschaft or Paul Baum’s Nach dem Regen—there was this theme of orientalism. Mihály von Munkácsy’s Zigeunerlager (translated as Gypsy Camp, though both those words are … well, the Zentralrat Deutscher Sinti & Roma say Zigeuner is a racist, discredited term also favoured by the Nazis) is one, nearby is Narcisse Diaz de la Peña’s Orientalin mit ihrer Tochter. Horace Vernet’s also, which I was looking at going, “Wow, well awesome!” wondering if it was one of those historical or mythical subject. Nope: Sklavenmarkt (Slave Market). It’s all-round troubling, all the way from foreground to finishing off with the guy having his teeth checked way up back. Sometimes things really need context (like is this something the artist saw himself, or in a photograph, or is it imagined from descriptions? Is the central man a buyer, is he himself a slave?) and having a work like that pretty much next to Constable’s The Grove, yeah, good to show what people were painting then but it’s kinda like putting Hello Kitty next to Holocaust. Anyway, something I almost missed is her tattoo which looks like a Star of David.
Not to say I disliked these works. I thought they were some of the finer in the collection, technically and artistically, even if from today’s perspective they’re iffy the way Wagner is. I keep banging on about context in the museums I visit and it’s stuff like this which really needs it.
Then … Cézanne (whose work is glorious in real life, unlike Monet whom I find kinda meh), beautiful Mediterranean works by Hans von Marées, the wonderful Don Quichotte und Sancho Pansa by Honoré Daumier and equally wonderful and mundane Auf dem Kanapee by Wilhelm Trübner (she totally looks like she’s on her phone and is all like, ”Can I go yet? Are we done?”) Carl Schuch’s still lifes look like they were done 200 years prior in the Netherlands, but with a 19th century brush and aesthetic. Died of syphilis.
One of the last, Max Liebermann’s Flachsscheuer in Laren is somewhat a companion for Adolph Menzel’s Das Eisenwalzwerk (Moderne Cyclopen) for me. Painted a couple of years later, it’s without the Industrial Revolution heroism and bragging of the latter, it doesn’t have gargantuan machinery belching hot coals and fire, nor an instant of energy and motion caught, it’s uneventful, a group of women spinning flax into thread, a group of children under the spindles, it would be the same the next day and the day after. It’s anonymous in a way that singular iron mill floor isn’t. It’s also an industrial revolution that isn’t one of men and furnaces and machinery, one that was equally prevalent. Really one of my favourites here.
Up to the third floor, and Gottfried Lindauer. Die Māori-Portraits. Non-stop goosebumps. It was like seeing someone I used to know, and hearing Māori spoken again, and seeing Kapiti Island and the Coromandel and remembering stuff I hadn’t thought of for years. No photos. I bought the catalogue. Fuck it, 40 euros is worth it.
Late-2012, I helped Dasniya and Hartmut Fischer with the video for their performance, Die Liebe und ihr Gegenteil oder Mädchenmörder Brunke – Eine choreografische LeseVerbindung. Some of this was collecting their own video of rehearsals, some was joining them on trips around Berlin by ferry or Ring-Bahn, and some was cutting it all together. The performance happened first in Tübingen at Club Voltaire, then again in a different form in Berlin at the Club der polnischen Versager. Hartmut had the unpublished manuscripts of Thomas Brasch, a Jewish Berlin playwright, writer, and director, which are what appear tied up and suspended in the middle part of the video. The first part is Dasniya and Hartmut organising the papers, which arrived as an unsorted mass in an old suitcase. The third part, on the Spree ferry goes past where Brasch used to live in Mitte when it was East Berlin. Finally, we three went on a ride on the S-Bahn, arriving at Ostkreuz just as the sun was setting. It’s not an especially spectacular piece of video, but it does represent – or document – a period of my life in Berlin, as well as parts of the city of Berlin itself. Mostly it’s silent.
Listening to Wagner and Burzum, and reading Tintin is probably the trifecta of Euro-racism, or at least it can’t be done without knowing clearly what I’m engaging in. I was in St George’s (as usual) picking up some books (again as usual), talking with Jamie, then took a wander and found a stack of Tintin comics. Tintin was long my lunch accompaniment when I was a child (or at least that is my memory), with peanut butter and jam on toast. After reading Tintin again, today I went out and bought said items plus some Neuköllner Spross bread and … well, anyway, Tintin.
“Is Tintin acceptable to read these days?” I asked Jamie. In-between childhood and now I was well-aware of ‘over-reaction and hyper political correctness’ in regard to Hergé’s earlier, more overtly colonial works (if you change the term ‘political correctness’ to ‘being nice to people’ it’s actually what they’re saying), and have distinct memories of Tintin in America, the portrayals of Native Americans and Africans, and it isn’t pretty.
The Shooting Star from 1942 gets off to a pretty good start in this respect. It was one of my more favourites, having astronomy, meteorites, giant mushrooms and an oppressive, slightly hallucinogenic quality. Then we meet the principal antagonist, the spider at the centre of the web, a fat, be-speckled crooked businessman with a giant proboscis of a nose, who despite the not-so-Jewish name of Bohlwinkel is unmistakably the meanest caricature. Bohlwinkel was originally known as Blumenstein. Sure, Hergé caricatures everyone, from the drunken Captain Haddock to the prima donna Bianca Castafiora; there are different positions from which one may caricature, and Europe 1941 for Jews isn’t one of them. But as Hergé says, “That was the style then.”
I really liked Tintin when I was young, and still do. The art, the line-work, colour, stories, humour, all appealed to me then as they do now; it’s both light and entertaining, and serious and political. And definitely in places racist, colonialist, crypto-fascist, and the answer to my question, “Is Tintin acceptable to read these days?” is probably something like, “Weell… it’s not The Birth of a Nation …”
The day after opening Parsifal, and I couldn’t even persuade myself to sleep in, so … To the Museums!
Unlike Berlin, where I live and know a reasonable amount about the city, Bologna is entirely new to me (ok, besides spaghetti bolognese). Indeed, this is my first time in Italy. I suppose this means I experience a museum in this city more as it is intended: an educational summary of a specific topic. Dasniya and I decided to go to the Museo Civico Archeologico di Bologna, but it seemed it would close not long after we got there. Across from Piazza del Francia we passed the Palazzo Pepoli, containing the Museo della Storia di Bologna, one of several museums that are part of Genus Bologniae. Open until 7pm and barely 2pm, we decided it would be a perfect choice for an hour or two. It was nearly closing by the time we left. I think the sheer number of photos I took and the number that ended up here illustrate what a fine time both Dasniya and I had.
This is the museum of the history of Bologna, and it goes back to the Etruscans, around 700BCE, when it was known as Felsina. It was also the city of Cassini, the Cassini, a satellite bearing his name orbiting now around Mars, who was a remarkable astronomer at a time of revolution in the field. This, and the art of building time-pieces (along with mercantile families and their ventures, and the famous university) is what the museum is built around. The Palazzo Pepoli of the family Pepoli dates back around 800 years, and while the museum doesn’t cover them as much as I’d have liked, it did devote the last exhibit in the formal dining hall to a series of 11 busts made in the 17th century of generations of women from the family, each of them spectacular in their own right.
I took an audio guide again, after my very good experience with one at the Musikinstrumenten-Museum a couple of weeks ago. It was a good decision, as all the exhibits are in Italian, though they also have information sheets in several languages in every room; the audio guide really adds a fantastic amount. It’s tempting to go through each room as a recollection here, but I think the photos capture something of that, and it’s sufficient to say I understand the city I’m working in far better than I did a few hours ago and have fallen into something of a love affair with the place, and Italy.
So, some flat notes amidst what is one of the most splendid museums set in one of the most beautiful city palaces I’ve ever been in. Despite the Pepoli women mentioned above, it’s unavoidable the museum gives a wide berth to the role of women in the history of the city. Even in the contemporary section, where 48 Bolognese are interviewed, only 5 of them are women; barely clearing 10%. Otherwise, it’s a sausage-fest, which is a pity, as the Pepoli women prove, the city has a history at least as long their family in which women play a central role.
The other, which coming from Berlin could never have been gotten away with in that city, was the exhibit (about a fifth of one of the 35 rooms) covering the Second World War. Or rather, “Liberata. Risorgere! Ai vittoriosi” “Liberation. Rise again! For the victorious”. No mention of Italian collaboration, fascism, Jews sent to concentration camps, just, “April 1945! Yay! … Oh, and the city was heavily bombed … Sad city is sad …” In Germany a museum would probably end up in prison for historical revisionism.
Besides that, this is a brilliant museum, varied and stimulating, beautifully laid out, so much attention to detail and the creative display of exhibits (a red Ducati next to a Roman chariot in the exhibit on the Roman Via Emilia trunk road!). I feel delightfully spoilt, and a little worried; if all museums here are so good going back to Berlin is going to be a torment.
Somewhere I’d read the desert of stone around Topographie des Terrors was composed of greywacke, one of my favourite rocks, but I think that was perhaps an inventive mistranslation. Still, the grounds of the museum are blanketed in it, when not forested.
Two weeks ago I went to the Jüdisches Museum and managed to formulate some thoughts on it while talking with Isabelle, who asked me if I’d been to Topographie des Terrors. Following my entirely indiscriminate approach to Museum Sundays, I couldn’t think of another that seemed more likely, so this afternoon, after lunch in with Dasniya and Florian in our kitchen (harhar if you know our kitchen), I was on my bike southwards.
I like the Bundesministerium der Finanzen, formerly the Reichsluftfahrtministerium, but then I’ve always had a fondness for that particular style of modernist architecture, despite its habitual association with fascism. Perhaps it’s just the time it emerged in, though I think equally there is a mentality in its aesthetics that corresponds with that period of industrialised, colonial nationalism. It’s just across the road from a stretch of the wall and Martin Gropius Bau, where I’ve been a couple of times, and juts oppressively over the remnant slabs of wall, windows all mean and small, hammered into battlement stone slabs like prison cells.
Unlike the utter absence of people in the reaches not around the wall, this section of the museum was heavily populated with people photographing themselves in front of the barrier. It’s somewhat bizarre a choice of holiday snaps.
I liked the barrenness of the grounds. It’s about as close as one can get to a fitting response to what happened in the buildings that were once here while remaining apprehensible by visitors. To salt and poison the earth and render it hostile to all who tread it, then wall it in, or gouge it out and blast the sandy Berlin geology until it melts would also be equivalent acts of memorial. It’s also good to arrive in winter, when the light is dim and listless, visibility is washed out by fog and mist, colour only comes from greyness, and cold and damp accompany.
Formerly this was a block containing the School of the Kunstgewerbemuseum, Prinz-Albrecht Palais and gardens, Europahaus, other buildings of Art Nouveau and the Kaiserreich along wealthy streets of the same. And now it is stripped bare. I followed the outside path first, short biographies of the buildings which once stood where nothing now remains, photographs of the edifices, dates when the Nazis moved in. It grew dark by the time I arrived at the air raid shelter dug by slave labour of political prisoners from Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Political prisoners meant largely communists, Die Rote Kapelle, liberals and intellectuals, artists, and either in combination or separately, homosexuals.
After and during Jüdisches Museum I was angry, enraged. Topologies des Terrors imparts a dull numbness. It is the lifeless grey stone of the Reichsluftfahrtministerium at dusk in winter, bereft of the living, of trees, greenness. It’s hollowed out and empty. There are many Nazis though, and they all are laughing.
I didn’t take many photos inside; it felt distasteful, like carrying the corpse of a rat out to the rubbish. What could I photograph anyway? The laughing Nazis? They were always smiling and full of life, especially when on holiday from murder. Their victims? Hanging broken-necked from trees and lampposts, starved to skeletons, kneeling or showing their back about to be shot, the moment of the shot, tumbled into graves. The numbers? Always numbers, columns, instructions, lists, documents, stamps, signatures, plans, orders. Does the number “11 million” mean something, signify something, declare something worse, more horrific than the 6 million the SS got away with? Jews that is. A document with a line-item: Jüden: 11.000.000. Or what of the plans for Lebensraum? More than double that figure. And the architecture. The Palais, the hotels, the studios of the Kunstgewerbemuseum the other edifices bounded by four streets, all turned from their original use to this.
Two photographs from inside. One is a map of the Reich in June, 1937. It documents those arrested in that month, stamped in red, ”Geheim!” The key: Communists, Social Democrats, Enemies of the State, Catholics … Jews … Homosexuals has small coloured circles next to each. Homosexuals get a circle with a black cross. 102 arrested in Berlin for the month of June. Gay, lesbian, trans, bisexual? It doesn’t indicate though other documents and photographs imply it was gay men; lesbians being more pliant and less of a threat to the state.
The other is titled ”Kennzeichen für Schutzhäftlinge in den Konz.-lagern” – “ID markers for Protective Custody Prisoners in Concentration Camps”. The top row lists: Political, Professional Criminal, Emigrant, Jehovah’s Witness, Homosexual, Work-shy (a catch-all for Roma, pacifists, lesbians, prostitutes, mentally ill, homeless, anarchists …); the left column indicates: Base Colour, Recidivists, Penal Labour, Markings for Jews.
A Jewish holocaust scholar said, in his criticism of the memorial to gay and lesbian victims of Nazis, among other things that it was only German homosexuals the Nazis persecuted; that it was political. He does not say there were no Jewish queers, though there is little need to as the manicuring of history which has placed Jewish identity at the centre of the holocaust has simultaneously diminished or denied their existence. So here we see a combination insignia: a yellow triangle overlaid with a pink triangle, for Homosexuelle Jüden.
Unlike the Jüdisches Museum, Topographie des Terrors does document the genocide against other groups and locate them within the overarching structure of Nazi racial purity. Perhaps what is critical here is the statelessness of the victims. Whether Jewish, Roma, Homosexual, Slavic, all are groups of significant number, and all had (or have) a lack of statehood. Statehood for queers sounds laughable, a logical fallacy, a misunderstanding of what a state is. Yet Jews were German, they were not a special case of German or some fiendish Other. To say otherwise is only possible if one declares exactly and precisely what constitutes a German, and adheres to a line of thinking that by elimination leads directly to the gas chamber. Through the removal of statehood from a person or group of people, committing acts of violence is no longer a question in the domain of philosophy or ethics; it is simply one of bureaucracy and accounting.
There were some Brazillian football players in town to play against Bayern Münich, they asked me to take a photo of them in front of the wall while holding up their team’s flag.
This was on Sunday, my regular weekly journey to one of Berlin’s hundreds of museums and art galleries. Alas, my webhost decided to trash one of their servers, and between recovering from that and all the rest of the week, it’s now Friday and my memory is crystallised; the immediate thoughts and emotions running over the same paths until ruts form and possibilities for other considerations become faint.
This is a troubling museum. I was angry at someone, and wanted to take that anger out on them. Anyone, preferably German, though Jewish would also suffice. Someone responsible for this; responsible also for forgetting and repeating.
My first visit to it when I was newly arrived in Berlin was an act of encompassing: I didn’t go in because of the queue. When I was a student, I’d bought a large monograph on Daniel Libeskind and the architecture of this Jüdisches Museum, so I found wandering outside was a thing in itself. Having now been inside, it seems two different things. In places the exterior breaks forth into the interior, but never as stark or clear. Often it feels too busy and demanding: there are arrows on the floor determining the correct path to take, as usual, I missed them and saw everything counter-clockwise.
People are very solemn at first. The stairs lead down to underground. The way forward is both uphill and tilted, or warped. The architecture is banal here, it reminds me of Hanna Arendt writing on Eichmann and how utterly mediocre his thinking was, his acts were, the blandness of an office from where murder was issued. I’m not sure this is intentional here, and despite what Libeskind says about his work being open to interpretation, there is much that is very deliberate yet also in other places unfulfilled.
This is a Jewish museum, a German Jewish museum. It is not a history of Jews or Jewishness in its entirety, it is centered on land that became Germany as well as neighbouring countries, and as time passes the focus narrows onto Germany and Berlin.
I was reading a letter that had been smuggled out of Auschwitz when a school group broke into laughter as one of them said something. I only caught, “… transvestites … ” and the laughter. Here is one I wanted to take my anger out on. The idiocy of not understanding; of not caring to understand. It is precisely and only because we begin by laughing at those who are different that we can later murder them. This the museum does not teach the visitor, perhaps because the stating the conceptual leap is too troubling for a country (Germany) that regards certain members in the same language (Turkish, Roma), or for another country (Israel) that treats people in the same way (Palestinian, Bedouin).
I went to the Holocaust place. The dead end. After the confined, low-ceiling blandness of the paths before, the cold, dark void I found peaceful. Once I was alone in there and my eyes adjusted, I could see the play of weak light from high above shape the space. Standing beneath it and looking back, small holes in the facing wall looked out to the garden, too high for eyes to see through. The sound was sharp and precise. I clapped my hands and like a gun firing the strike echoed for half a minute. A sound to meditate by.
Again, a simple reading is possible, yet I am not so grim a nihilist to think that there is not some peace intended to be experienced here, also in the garden outside. The bleakness suits winter.
Out and up the stairs. The architecture of this progression is also exclusive. For those without legs to walk the stairs, it is not possible to follow the axis of continuation, nor to experience the museum as it expects.
Arriving at the top it is a relief. There are spices, colours, smells. I find a reproduction of a 14th century illumination, teaching children the alphabet by baking each letter into a biscuit, because knowledge is sweet and beyond all else important. This is something I can feel an affinity for. Later there is an etching of darling, dear Spinoza, not a minor philosopher at all. Also a Torah for children, as drawn by a renaissance xkcd. There are messages on the wall though, creeping into vision. Kant says, “They are nowaday vampires of society” …
The language again. It is language I hear now from people I would assume understand words and what they are saying. Of course, because they utter them against immigrants, asylum seekers, Roma, Turkish, Muslims, it is ok. The police standing on guard at every Jewish building in Berlin remind us that Berlin, Germany, Europe does not understand what it will never forget.
The 20th century, then. Almost a return trip to the Deutsches Technikmuseum, and what was perhaps not clearly mentioned there is certainly here: that Jews were at the front of industrialisation, modernisation, innovation, art, culture. And I am angry again. That they let this happen. They, Germans, Jews, Europeans. Sometimes I want to punch the city of Berlin itself, but I have also seen photographs of Berlin from above in 1945 to know the city did that task to itself. And I am angry at that too.
China. Shanghai. When I said this is a German Jewish museum, it is what is absent that frames what is here. The persecution for hundreds of years pushed them into travelling. There are Jews in China, converted hundreds of years ago who follow a memory of Jewishness. There were tens of thousands of refugees in Shanghai and Chongqing. I photographed some of the illustrations of this, an entire story in itself. There is also land in northern China that for a small moment in time could have become Israel.
The word ambivalent is perhaps the closest I can find to this pull of contradictions, to also the presentation of a single narrative of Jewishness. What is missing? Where are the wealthy Jews who signed away the lives of the poorer, who were absolutely complicit in murder? Where are the heterosexual Jews who persecuted the gay, lesbian, transgender ones? Certainly the latter have “their own” museum, as if there were no cock-sucking, pussy-licking, cross-dressing Jews. Them and us.
There is a photograph of Heinz Joachim and Marianne Prager, Jewish Communist resistance fighters. They are in a clearing in a forest, he is kneeling on a blanket, she standing. His arms are around her waist, she has one on her shoulder. He looks up into her eyes, they are smiling, laughing. He is wearing a short-sleeved gingham dress, and she a man’s dark suit, jacket and trousers. They were murdered in 1942, both 23 years old, two years after this photo. There is no remark made on their clothing or why they were wearing it, their identities are both present and erased.
The museum winds back on itself. After the dead-end of the holocaust, it becomes a green room, dressed in artificial grass, warm golden light. The people after. There are cubes lit from within on poles, like saplings, each has a photograph of a person and a short biography. One says, “ … and when my father in Palestinian exile, witnessed how the expelled began doing the expelling, he wrote: ‘The swastika is twining around the Star of David …’”
I can’t say anymore. Like the museum going back on itself – to exit I have to go back down the stairs, through the basement, glance at the path to the holocaust once more – my thoughts go back on themselves, worrying and pulling at themselves. I want to say this is pathetic, hundreds of years of culture and all that is shown is religion and death. One exhibit is the Brit milah, circumcising the baby boy. Ritual genital mutilation is another way of putting it. There is no commentary on how some secular and religious Jews find this act disturbing. There is scant room for discussion of this in Germany because any criticism becomes itself criticised for anti-semiticism. It’s possible what I write now, what I think now would be defined as anti-semetic.
At last there is a separate exhibition of a photographer. The first image is that of a woman. I haven’t written of how frequently and how clearly conscious and matter-of-fact the place of the women who appear in this exhibition, from the ceramic artists who are the first exhibits encountered, to the long biography of a Jewish merchant woman, to this last image, Hannah Arendt.
Yes, I haven’t been blogging. I haven’t even a good excuse. Absence of unique excitement, though presence of multiple small excitements – none of which alone are enough to write about.
Christian sent some photos. He is in South America somewhere, possibly in Patagonia, or Tierra del Fuego. Vircarious excitement for me in the photographs from friends.
One of the first freelance jobs I got in Berlin was salvaging a website for Christian Ender. Over the past three years, I’ve looked after imdialog, taken care of two other sites for Christian, and he has become one of my good friends here. A couple of weeks ago he called me and explained he was being awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz for his work that these websites document over the past years.
Last Friday, he was awarded the medal by the Staatssekretär, and following that, a long lunch and many drinks with a large group of friends and family.
I am very happy for Christian to have all his work recognised — for Werner Bab and “Zeitabschnitte”, for Gunter Kroemer and “Bedrohtevölker” — and for him to receive the recognition he is due.
And at the end of the month, he departs for South America with a camera.